The Fiscal Reality of the City Differs From the Mayor’s Column

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Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis

By Robb Davis

Recently our Mayor, my colleague, wrote: “Our budget is balanced and resilient. Due to improved revenues and cost-cutting efforts, our budget is balanced with a healthy 15-percent reserve. Better yet, it is a fiscally resilient one in that we are paying what we need to be for our pension and retiree health obligations and are making substantial investments in our infrastructure… Yes, there are still long-term challenges. But we are doing very well.”

I would like to challenge a few of these assertions while highlighting some others.

Dan is correct: we are paying what we need to on retiree medical and pensions, but the costs of these continue to grow more quickly than revenue growth. He is also right that there ARE long-term challenges. But they are not just long-term. They are here now.

In a December 15 report to Council, City staff demonstrated that we are under spending on critical infrastructure and programs by over $10 million on an annual (ongoing) basis.

That is $10 million every year.

This is for things we already have (not new things), including bike paths, streets, sidewalks, park structures, pools, tennis courts, traffic signals, our urban forest, playgrounds, irrigation systems and city building maintenance.

Let me repeat: a $10 million shortfall each and every year—on a current $50 million General Fund budget.

On a positive note, and thanks to improved revenue generation in the past two to three years, our General Fund’s “unreserved fund balance” stood at 26% of operating revenues at the end of 2014/15 (unaudited). That amounts to $12 million.

(The General Fund is the major unrestricted fund over which we have most control—other “enterprise” funds are restricted in various ways and are mostly generated from utility charges.)

If we were to take that entire amount and apply it to this year’s shortfall, we would have a $2-million-dollar reserve—or about 4% of operating revenues. But that is not a solution to our ongoing funding needs because we do not generate that $12 million each year—it has taken several years to build to this reserve amount.

In addition to paying for the necessary maintenance of things we already have, staff also presented a list of “one time” expenses to do “new” things such as upgrade city buildings, update financial systems, build new pools, renovate City Hall and fire stations, improve street conditions around the Richards interchange and Anderson Road, and pay for a much needed update to our General Plan. In addition to the $10 million per year, the one-time price tag on all these “new” items is just under $95 million.

In addition to dealing with unfunded needs, we also face the challenge of keeping our annual recurring operating expenses in check. Employee compensation is a large part of these operating expenses. In relation to staffing and compensation we must deal with a situation in which all the following are true:

  1. Staff numbers have been cut by over 100 in the past decade (453 to 352)
  2. The cost of compensating staff has increased from just over $100,000 to over $150,000 per employee in the same decade.

But…

  1. The vast majority of staff in the city has seen the amount of their take-home check decrease over the past five years, principally due to increased employee contributions for healthcare insurance and pensions.

In sum: total and per employee costs to the City have increased even while employees take home less AND we have 100 fewer employees. And because we have cut staff in a non-strategic way (via attrition), it is not even clear whether we are staffed appropriately to provide city services. We have a highly professional and responsive workforce—with workers taking on many new tasks due to cuts—but because employee costs represent the majority of General Fund expenses we must find ways to contain compensation.

Actuarial experts estimate that the costs of pensions alone will climb from 24% of base pay to 43% of base pay for safety workers and 24% to 32% for other employees between FY14/15 and FY20/21. Those estimates were made before CALPERs made the recent decision to reduce their assumed rate of return on investments from 7.5% to 6.5% over the next 20 years. The bottom line for that adjustment is that the estimated costs are likely to go up. These are amounts the City must pay to provide the defined benefit pension to which all City employees have a right. The future escalation of retiree medical costs is unknown.

City revenue sources are minimally diversified, relying largely on sales tax—overwhelmingly from auto sales—and property taxes. The up and down nature of sales taxes, rising and falling as they do with the broader economy, means that today’s solid numbers can easily evaporate in a few short years. Property taxes adjust upward with the pace of inflation—resetting only when homes are sold. And while the current improving economy has led to significant “resetting,” these revenues do not, over time, grow in a way that keeps up with the costs of service delivery. So while today’s revenue picture is much improved over a just a few years ago, the recent history of our, and most other California cities, should remind us how fleeting such positives can be.

Is this an over gloomy picture of our local fiscal situation? I don’t think so. Very few if any California cities—Davis included—can claim to be fiscally “sustainable” at this point in time.

At a recent League of California Cities’ Conference (a conference for City Council members and Senior City staff) the most “oversubscribed” sessions concerned discussions about how to reduce retiree medical costs, dealing with maintenance backlogs, and the future of pension costs and pension reform. Attendees, of which I was one, left these sessions in a somber mood, each one returning to his/her own city wondering how we are going to find fiscally sound ways forward.

And so I am left with questions…

Is our budget balanced? Not if our budget accounts for all our costs (which it should).

Are we fiscally resilient? Not without greater diversification of revenues.

Is our local fiscal situation doing very well? I am simply not ready to say that.

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54 thoughts on “The Fiscal Reality of the City Differs From the Mayor’s Column”

  1. Paul Thober

    Thank you, Robb for laying this all out. Now I would like to see how it is that we are going to deal with it. It looks to me that we need huge tax increases and draconian personnel and service cuts. I hope we will see this reality both acknowledged and acted upon by our city council. The problem will only grow if not addressed.

    1. Matt Williams

      Paul Thober said . . .  “Now I would like to see how it is that we are going to deal with it.”

      The first step is coming up with a comprehensive assessment of what the necessary maintenance of things we already have is going to cost.  Both Council and the Finance & Budget Commission have been working throughout 2015 with staff to put together that clear and honest assessment.

      The streets and roads portion of that assessment has been presented by staff, and then revised and updated based on the questions staff got from both Council and the FBC.  Staff has been preparing with the help of a facilities consultant a separate comprehensive report that covers City Hall, city buildings, fire stations, pools, parks, and other public works buildings and facilities.  That comprehensive facilities maintenance/repair/replacement report has been a work-in-process since the Budget was approved in mid-2015.  Updates from staff indicate it should be ready for review by the Council and the FBC in January.  FBC has suggested that focused attention on facilities groupings through its existing liaison relationship with other city commissions will ensure that this is not just a fiscal analysis, but also a functional analysis as well.

      That process describes how to get a clear picture of what we owe for facilities maintenance/repair/replacement; however, FBC has also been strongly advising the Council and staff that the city needs to undertake a comprehensive Business Process Re-engineering.  As Robb Davis says in his article,

      because we have cut staff in a non-strategic way (via attrition), it is not even clear whether we are staffed appropriately to provide city services. We have a highly professional and responsive workforce—with workers taking on many new tasks due to cuts—but because employee costs represent the majority of General Fund expenses we must find ways to contain compensation.

      We need business processes and human systems that are structured to efficiently and effectively deliver the services our city and its residents need.  We need to make the most of the highly professional and responsive workforce we have, and ensure that we are proactively dealing with change that we have prepared ourselves for, rather than reactively dealing with change that is being imposed on us.

      The pro-bono engagement that John Meyer completed shortly after City Manager Dirk Brazil’s hiring, was a good first step, but there hasn’t been any follow-up engagement to keep that positive momentum going.  A Business Process Re-engineering assessment of the city would build on what was learned from John Meyer’s efforts, and cause us to use our money more wisely.

      If we do that, any additional taxes can be very specifically targeted for the parts of the city’s business processes that need the additional spending . . . and the city can clearly and transparently report back to the taxpayers how their money has been efficiently and effectively spent.

      All of the above is the substance behind the FBC’s December 15th advice to Council

       

      That the F& B C is recommending that the Davis City Council not approve any new tax measures or utility rate increases for placement on a ballot measure until such time that:
       
      1.     The staff provides a detailed scope of proposed and/or deferred capital infrastructure projects, as well as proposed new services.
       
      ·       Said scope document shall include specific measurable success metrics for the proposed new services and projects, along with an inventory of the specific costs that will be incurred to provide said proposed services or complete said projects.
       
      ·       Each deferred capital infrastructure project shall include its expected success metrics, as well as an anticipated budget.
       
      ·       The scope document will be updated each year as part of the Budget adoption process.
       
      2.     The staff provides detailed report/s in conjunction with or as a part of the annual Budget adoption process documents submitted to City Council that reports the specific work done (accomplishments) the prior Fiscal Year on staff proposed services and project/s associated with item #1.
       
      3.     The staff provides detailed report/s in conjunction with or as a part of the annual Budget adoption process documents submitted to City Council that defines where the revenues collected from any new tax/increased tax measure(s) spent on services and/or projects other than the services and/or projects associated with item #1.

       

  2. Barack Palin

    Wolk’s rosy column would be like a homeowner saying their budget was balanced even though their roof was leaking, the foundation cracking, both cars were broken down in the driveway, they didn’t have enough funds put away for their retirement and they hadn’t saved up for their kid’s college.  Other than that things are great.

    1. Topcat

      Whew! If i managed my personal budget the way the City is managing its budget-i’d be in debtor’s prison by now.

      I don’t think we have debtor’s prison any more.  More likely that you would declare bankruptcy and walk away from your debts.

  3. Tia Will

    Robb

    As you know, I am not great with numbers, so forgive me if I missed this point. You said “City staff demonstrated that we are under spending on critical infrastructure and programs by over $10 million on an annual (ongoing) basis.”

    For how many years has this been the case ?  It is one thing to under or overspend in one or two years if one is catching up at some point in time. I am unclear about how far, in total, we are behind at the present time if we are counting “all of our costs” ?

    1. Frankly

      Why does this matter?  You cannot go back and fix history.  The only point that matters is what we have to spend on an ongoing basis just to keep up with our roads and infrastructure maintenance.  You have been given that.

      It seems maybe you are grasping at straws to continue to justify your no-growth position.

    2. Matt Williams

      Tia, based on my close observation of the multi-step process that staff has followed, staff’s assessment of $10 million on an annual ongoing basis is for the next 20-year period.  So $10 million per year for 20 years = $200 million total.  Staff’s assessment is based on a detail inspection of the current condition of all the city’s streets and bike paths and walkways.   That current condition is the result of the aggregate and cummulative underspending on maintainence and repair.  Here is an excerpt from a recent staff report to the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission that provides a partial answer to your question.

       

      One of the City’s major challenges is addressing the infrastructure’s declining condition. The City has a backlog of unmet transportation maintenance needs, and, combined with a long list of desired transportation improvements funding is simply inadequate to meet all the needs of the transportation system. Additionally, the 2011 statewide dissolution of redevelopment agencies – including the Davis Redevelopment Agency (RDA) ‐ has eliminated millions of dollars otherwise eligible for transportation infrastructure within the previous RDA boundary (downtown and much of south Davis).

      An August, 2014 presentation to the Finance and Budget Commission showed an average pavement condition index (PCI) of 59 on a 100 point scale, with a score of 55 for the City’s bike paths, with conditions declining 2‐3 points per year. As pavement conditions decline, maintenance/repair costs increase up to ten‐fold for the most damaged street segments. With well over $100 million in deferred pavement maintenance, the City Council has established a budget priority to allocate approximately $3 million annually for street rehabilitation versus the five‐year historical annual average of less than $1.7 million. Despite the additional funding, local streets will continue to deteriorate over time.

      In addition to deteriorating pavement conditions, other areas of the City’s transportation infrastructure are deteriorating. Standing programs including Signing & Striping, Traffic Signals, Street Maintenance and Repair, and Sidewalk/Curb/Gutter maintenance, are minimally funded causing backlogs in needed maintenance.

       

      A

  4. Topcat

    It’s good to see a realistic assessment of the City’s financial situation. The first step towards solving a problem is to admit that we have a problem in the first place, and this article does a good job of laying out the problem.

  5. Mark West

    This is an excellent article by Robb; an example of the type of leadership that I have expected from him.

    Based on the numbers presented here, we have 352 FTE’s in our employ, at a total compensation cost of over $150,000 per.  If that is correct, our total compensation costs are greater than $52.8 million per year on a General Fund Budget of $50 million.

    Now I realize that some of the compensation costs may be covered by the enterprise funds and not come from the General Fund, but it is important to see the magnitude of our fiscal imbalance. We overspend our General Fund Budget every year just on the basis of compensation costs alone, and those costs are continuing to increase as Robb has pointed out above.

    Nothing we do in terms of increasing revenues will solve our fiscal problems until we stop the growth of total compensation costs.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Nothing we do in terms of increasing revenues will solve our fiscal problems until we stop the growth of total compensation costs.”

      We need to fix our infrastructure – period. You can make the argument any way you want about the rest, but if we really are bleeding $10 million a year – we end up paying more in the long run by avoiding that payment. It sucks because I want to agree with you, but from a cost standpoint, waiting isn’t an option.

  6. Davis Progressive

    Robb Davis nails this but the problem here is that Robb Davis is only one person on council.  I think we need to make it clear that we think Dan Wolk is wrong, Robb Davis is right, and lobby Brett, Rochelle and Lucas to follow Robb’s lead here.  Unfortunately after watching the MOU discussion – that took place on video at the Vanguard’s event rather than at council – I don’t feel that the majority on council get it.

  7. Matt Williams

    Together Dan Wolk’s “reflecting on the amazing year we’ve had” column last Sunday and Robb Davis’ column today give us the optimist’s perspective on Davis and the realist’s perspective on Davis.

    For those Vanguard and Enterprise readers who are old enough to have heard Paul Harvey’s daily “Rest of the Story” commentary on the radio, taken together the Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem have provided an aggregate perspective that fills Harvey’s catch phrase, “Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for NEWS!”

    The Mayor has provided the partial story that preceded the commercial break in the midpoint of Harvey’s show, and Mayor Pro-Tem Davis has provided us with “the rest of the story.”

    The Mayor ended his column by saying, “I can’t wait to see what this upcoming year has in store. But for now, relax and enjoy this holiday season.”

    The Mayor Pro-Tem in his column above has effectively said “The holiday season is over, and it is time to get to work.”

    I admire the Mayor’s optimism, but my tenure on the Finance and Budget Commission tells me that addressing challenges laid out by the Mayor Pro-Tem is the fiscally responsible thing to do if we want Davis to continue to be the Davis we have come to know and love.

  8. SODA

    Thank you Robb for your honesty, courage and preparation that it took to write this piece. As you know better than anyone,  the situation will soon be yours as you ascend to be our Mayor.

    I would ask that each CC person, especially Dan, respond to the article so we can generate a healthy discussion and understand their thinking on the topic.

    Also Robb what is the plan/timeline for assessing the appropriateness of staff assignment, as you correctly point out most of the 100 cuts were by attrition. Was the John Meyer report a step in this direction? The Budget and Finance Commission recent recommendations?

    1. Sam

      Why would Dan want to generate a healthy discussion on actually balancing the City’s budget? That is not going to get him elected. Building a new pool and sports park and other nice new things that we can’t afford will help get him votes, not talking about reality.

  9. Sam

    Personally I would have like to have seen a paragraph on how the City is not fully paying for pensions in the current years they were earned and along with post retirement medical owe hundreds of millions of dollars. Other than that, nice job painting the financial picture of the City.

     

    1. Frankly

      Sam – it has to do with accounting and financial reporting within GAAP and FASB that allow cities to ignore this thing called unfunded pension liability and instead report it as more a pay-as-they-go expense.

      If you owned a private for-profit or non-profit company would would not be able to do this.  You would have to calculate the known future payments you have committed to and record them as a liability on your balance sheet.   In financial accounting when your liabilities exceed your assets you are considered a financially insolvent entity.  The reason is simple… if you had to close your business at that time and liquidate all your assets to cover your debt obligations and expense commitments, you would come up short.  Right now the city would come up very short.  The city is in fact insolvent in consideration of all the existing employee and retiree pension and healthcare payment commitments made.   But because public entities are not required to report their finances the same, they can sweep it under the rug.  And because they could sweep it under the rug, they could give more raises to employees for political favor and the voters would remain ignorant to the true financial situation.

  10. Sam

    Note to Dan: Governmental budgets are always “balanced”. They have to be because those are the rules in governmental accounting. So saying the budget is balanced is like saying the City is a great place to live because we have city council meeting open to the public. Each year you either increase or decrease your current cash (aka fund balance) to “balance” the budget.

    1. Frankly

      Oops.  Sam – after reading this I see that you know more about this than I had guessed.  Did not mean to talk down to your current understanding.  Now I see that you were just commenting that you wish Robb had included this in his article.

      Maybe one of us should write that as a follow up letter to the editor.

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly

        Maybe one of us should write that as a follow up letter to the editor.”

        Maybe one of you should write it up factually,without the editorializing about the motives of the politicians involved, so that those of us who are less financially astute would learn something. You might want to consider submitting it as opinion piece to the Enterprise and a free standing article here on the Vanguard.

  11. Ron

    Can the city legally change (limit) its contribution toward pension and health care costs (for existing employees and retirees)?  I’m sure that this would not be popular with city employees.  However, this appears to be the biggest problem that California cities are facing.  (Especially with police and fire department employees, who generally have much more costly/generous retirement benefits, available to them at a much earlier age.)

    Since public safety employees retire when they’re relatively young and able-bodied, there’s no reason to expect our cities to (fully) support them for the remainder of their lives.

    This really has to change. (At least, for future employees.)

    1. Frankly

      As I understand the City cannot make changes to existing employee commitments unless the city files bankruptcy and then a judge would preside over a process that first invalidates all contracts and then determines which can be honored and which would need to be re-negotiated.  I think that is something the state is going to have to address, but is unlikely because CA state government is strongly controlled by Democrats.

      What needs to happen immediately is that all new employees be put into a defined contribution plan so that over the next 30-40 years we have no more defined benefit pensions and all we have to pay for is that huge bubble of old city employee retirees with the big pensions.  That change does not help the immediate imbalance, but it prevents it from growing.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Why not end agreements, and then offer them with a new 401K-style system? If not, this is just committing financial suicide.

        What is the total cost of a similarly skilled worker in the private sector. Half? $80,000 per year?

        The further pickle is I don’t see seniors voting for fat city paychecks, nor do I see newer residents paying for them when they’re strapped making their high house payments.

        For the record, I believe Galveston, Texas, and Chile (the country) have robust retirement systems based on investments in the free market (as opposed to social security).

        1. Tia Will

          TBD

          For the record, I believe Galveston, Texas, and Chile (the country) have robust retirement systems based on investments in the free market (as opposed to social security).”

          Which might work just fine until you have a financial meltdown like we experienced just  eight years ago. Worked out ok for those of us who still had good jobs and could watch our 401Ks go into free fall and still had time to recoup our losses. Not so well for those who lost homes, jobs, savings…..etc.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          I don’t think people lost homes because their social security benefits stagnated. Most suggestions for a Galveston-like system allow individuals to invest a portion of their retirement in a 401K-like vehicle, and then a portion in traditional Social Security.

          There are added benefits – such as the ability of a retiree to pass on their remaining (unused) retirement funds to loved ones upon their death.

        3. Frankly

          Which might work just fine until you have a financial meltdown like we experienced just  eight years ago. Worked out ok for those of us who still had good jobs and could watch our 401Ks go into free fall and still had time to recoup our losses. Not so well for those who lost homes, jobs, savings…..etc.

          The Great Recession was unique in that it hammered every type of investment.  Then in response our “friends” at the fed kept interest rates so low there wasn’t even a reasonable straight FDIC-insured bank deposit investment option.  The best thing for the 401k investment-ignorant is target-date mutual funds.  That way when they are closer to retirement age, the fund automatically shifts to a lower-risk portfolio.  Investment advisers tend to criticize target-date funds for the primary reason is that they take investor money that might otherwise be in their control to manage.

          The bottom line is that anyone close to retirement should already have most of their portfolio moved to lower risk-investments that would not take much of a hit when the investment market declines.  Those still gambling to get high returns would of course suffer much bigger losses and would end up have to work more years in order to safely retire.

          But your comment is interesting to me because it clearly has you defending the minority of government workers while 95% of the rest of the working world has 401k-style plans.

          In terms of fairness, how about this…?

          I have some public-sector friends that retired 2007-2010 and purchased fantastic new homes because their pension benefits did not fall but the price of real estate did.  Suddenly they were all much more wealthy than they had thought.  So how fair is that?

  12. Frankly

    One idea that should have been considered with this last COLA increase and for all future increases (which, IMO, should not be given until the city’s full financial situation is repaired, but will likely happen anyway) is to make it a bonus and not a pay increase.   A bonus gives the employee the same money in their pocket without increasing the value of their retirement benefits.  This is how we should handle ALL ongoing COLA increases for existing city employees vested in the current defined benefit pension retirement plan.  And over time with inflation this would allow us to repair our over-commitments to retirement benefits.

    I bet the city labor groups won’t like this.  And the reason is that the greatest interest they have in any pay increase is not so much the money in their pocket every month while they are working, but the money in their pocket every month after they retire.   Unfortunately for them, it the amount of this retirement money going into city employee retiree pockets that is unfair and is wrecking the city budget because it increases the long-term unfunded pension liability.  So at the very least the bonus option needs to be pot forward just to count the opposition to this versus the straight pay rate increase because it will likely shed light on the true driving motivation for city labor groups to demand COLA increases.

  13. TrueBlueDevil

    What happens if we enter a recession? I think we’re due for one.

    If such happens, what happens to the city finances i new car sales drop in half? I think a real-world example like that would be good to plan for.

  14. Tia Will

    TBD

    What happens if we enter a recession? I think we’re due for one.

    If such happens, what happens to the city finances i new car sales drop in half? I think a real-world example like that would be good to plan for.”

    I share your concerns. However, I see this as an excellent argument for not putting all of our eggs into the “free market will handle all” basket.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Forgive me, but this reply doesn’t make sense, and the reality of ups and downs is no judgement on capitalism.

      Here are some items I think that are germane.

      1: How much would city revenues drop by if car sales fell by 50%. 25%? 40%?

      2: Then, would our set-aside fund cover that difference for 2 or 3 years?

      Actually, these real “what if” scenarios really probably highlight that the city needs to diversify and expand it’s business tax base – which means getting an innovation park off the ground, and getting Nishi moving along.

      1. Mark West

        We just lived through a recession and saw first hand the impact of having ‘all of our eggs’ in the car sales ‘basket.’  That was the impetus for the latest push towards economic development that started during that last recession. Expand local retail options to reduce our dependency on car sales tax, and create space for new businesses to grow our property tax base.

        The evidence is readily available and has been discussed here many times before, we just have some who choose to ignore it.

  15. Tia Will

    TBD

     the reality of ups and downs is no judgement on capitalism.”

    I disagree. I feel that extreme economic swings are a judgement of capitalism. I believe that as a society, we would be much better off if we did not have the large swings in our economic fortunes. True there would be less spectacular wealth accumulation, but I believe that there would also be less of the misery created by the Depression and more recently by the recession of 2008. I would much prefer a perhaps more bland, but also more stabile system in which everyone has enough, and those who wish to earn more have the ability to do so.

    1. Frankly

      As usual, I am tickled with what you post because it is so clearly and honestly firmly planting in the left ideological hemisphere.

      Yours is classic in neo-liberal stasis stuff.  Your vision of utopia is clearly a smaller, slower, more equal, more predictable society with a less dynamic economy.  You say you want this because of the misery caused by the inevitable downward trends (as any reasonably free economy will always go through cycles of up and down).

      But here is the problem in a nutshell:

      1. You conveniently leave off all the benefits derived and only focus on the “misery” of the downturns.

      2. The system design you opine for has been tried many, many times… and it always results in significantly more human misery and suffering.

      It seems you and a few others are wholly incapable of understanding what is really a simple, albeit  inconvenient to your views, principle that net tax revenue for a city comes from economic activity.  Taxes from residential development is net negative over time.  Only the tax inflow derived from the economic activities connected to commercial development end up bringing in more revenue than expenses.

      So, it does not matter that the economy goes up and economy goes down, there is no other reasonable tax revenue alternative for a city needing enough revenue to pay its expenses than to have a robust local economy.  Davis has a Podunk local economy.  We should have a $75 million dollar general fund given our population and the service and maintenance requirements of the city.  Yet we only have a $50 million dollar general fund.  The only sustainable way to get that missing $25 million is to develop more commercial space for the city.

      It will be interesting to see what happens now that the Bining family has sold all of those downtown buildings to a Bay Area developer.  Maybe the final impacts of this change will wake you and others up to the true need for the city.

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly and TBD

        ” The system design you opine for has been tried many, many times… and it always results in significantly more human misery and suffering.”

        “Like Cuba or North Korea?”

        No. I had more like some of the Scandinavian countries in mind.

         

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      Like Cuba or North Korea?

      BTW, google the Anderson School of Management at UCLA and their review of FDRs economic policies. Their study years ago asserted that the policies of FDR extended the Great Depression by 6 or 7 years.

  16. CalAg

    In a December 15 report to Council, City staff demonstrated that we are under spending on critical infrastructure and programs by over $10 million on an annual (ongoing) basis.
    That is $10 million every year.

    A 20% staff reduction would generate a $10.5 million per year cost savings. Under this scenario, I suspect the CM would calculate that the annual unfunded budget deficit was significantly less than $10 million.

    1. Matt Williams

      The last ten years of City of Davis FTE and Total Employee Compensation history does not support your savings argument.  FTEs have reduced more than 20% over that period, and at the same time Total Compensation expenditures have increased.

      FTEs

       

      1. CalAg

        Average total compensation is approximately $150,000 per year per employee.  The CC/CM could balance the budget with a 20% staff reduction. In the unlikely event that the city leadership took this approach, we would very quickly get a much more accurate assessment from staff of our true unfunded liabilities, costs-of-service, and staffing requirements.

        Annual creep in average total compensation is a separate issue. This problem can be solved by capping “City of Davis Total Compensation” and only paying for mandated increases in benefits and COLA expenses with new revenue.

        1. Matt Williams

          CalAg said . . . “Annual creep in average total compensation is a separate issue. This problem can be solved by capping “City of Davis Total Compensation” and only paying for mandated increases in benefits and COLA expenses with new revenue.”

          The Council, the Finance & Budget Commission and city staff would all be jumping for joy if CalAg’s “This problem can be solved …” statement were possible, but it isn’t.  A substantial proportion of the amount paid each year for Total Compensation is outside the City’s control, and if the increase in those proportions pushes the City’s Total Compensation expenditures above any City-set cap, then there is nothing that the City can do to avoid that increase.

          Average Total Compensation will continue to rise as the City of Davis Total Compensation continues to rise.

          One of the noteworthy contributors to the rise in Average Total Compensation is the increase in PERS and OPEB costs.  Those cost increases apply to virtually all City of Davis employees, both past and present.  Reducing the number of active employees does not reduce those annual PERS and OPEB costs because of the substantial unfunded liability balance that exists in the City’s PERS and OPEB accounts that we are working hard to reduce.

           

  17. Misanthrop

    Seems like a glass half full or half empty argument. Dan says we are currently balanced but need to raise revenue for infrastructure.

    Robb says we have unfunded liabilities so we shouldn’t say we are out of the woods and need to increase revenue.

    How different are these views? Not much really.

    1. Sam

      I guess you missed my post on how governmental budgets have to be balanced. The Federal budget is balanced too.

      “Better yet, it is a fiscally resilient one ” Dan

      “we are under spending on critical infrastructure and programs by over $10 million on an annual (ongoing) basis.” …”In addition to the $10 million per year, the one-time price tag on all these “new” items is just under $95 million.” Robb

      These look like very different views to me.

    2. Matt Williams

      Misanthrop, the differences are both stark and real.

      They are different in principle.  One is inclusive and the other is exclusive.

      They are also different factually.  Dan takes an out of sight, out of mind approach to the city’s fiscal obligations to its residents and taxpayers, moving those obligations off the City’s books.  Robb embraces those same fiscal obligations, bringing them into the light of day.

  18. Misanthrop

    You are all having the wrong discussion. Both Robb and Dan recognize that we need additional funding its simply a matter of tone. The question should be how to fund what the city needs and the answer most of the Vanguard sycophants argue for is austerity. The question should be how to fund the city not the direction of the local spin. It seems that the real arguments are over taxes, economic growth or reduction in services. The question where the policy differences matter is how do we get from where we are to where we need to be. 

    1. David Greenwald

      I disagree we are having the wrong discussion. You yourself acknowledged that labor costs prevent projects from penciling out and labor costs eat into the bottom line for the innovation parks.

      We need to discuss both cost-controls – that means looking into better staffing schemes, controlling short and long term costs, and not spending money we don’t have (the MOU) – and revenue measures. As I pointed out in the article today we also need revenue measures, but right now that looks iffy at best, I don’t see a current proposal that funds our $10 million in needs as identified by Robb Davis.

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